Homeless women, children see new permanent supportive housing in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 News is committed to Building a Better Bay Area. All this week we are looking at the Bay Area's housing crisis.

The Bay Area is home to thousands of homeless people. In San Francisco alone, there are 7,000 homeless people, many of whom are families with young children.

ABC7 News is committed to spending more time and resources looking for ways we can help build a better Bay Area. We toured a brand new property in San Francisco that includes permanent supportive housing for homeless women and children.

SHARE YOUR HOUSING STORY: How are you making it work here in the Bay Area?

Four-year-old Zaki and his baby brother have been living at Catholic Charities' Star Community Home in San Francisco for nine months. Two-year-old Jimena has been there for a year. And the Yohannes Brothers have been living at the Richmond District homeless shelter for more than two years.

But now 10 kids and their six moms are moving out of the women and children's shelter and into a brand new Hayes Valley apartment complex, that's been under construction since 2017 and is almost complete.

This week, for the first time, moms Ashley Austin and Dina Raquel Guillen, got a look at their new permanent supportive housing.

"It's beautiful. Thank you," said Guillen through tears, as she looked around an apartment.

Dina and her daughter, Jimena, are moving into a sunny one bedroom with new appliances, dark cabinetry, white walls and grey floors.

"Oh," exclaimed Guillen with a smile, as she opened the door to her new walk-in closet. Guillen says she became homeless after escaping a domestic violence situation.

In Spanish, she said, "Now I feel happy and safe because I have a place to be with my baby."

The Star Community Home moms secured their permanent supportive housing by working with counselors at one of three Access Points in San Francisco. The Access Point caseworkers examine the client's individual circumstances to determine their eligibility for different housing programs and subsidies.

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At 455 Fell Street, there are 107 affordable units. 33 of the units are for homeless families, 72 of the units are for low-income households, and two of the units are designated for families with licensed in-home daycare facilities.

"I've been working on this development for about five years and this is the first time I've met any of the tenants who are moving in, so it's very emotional to hear their stories," said Tim Dunn, who works for Mercy Housing, the developer and owner/operator of 455 Fell Street.

Mercy Housing is a nonprofit, and has about 40 affordable housing properties in San Francisco, with more on the way. At each property, Dunn says there are services to help residents, like Ashley and Dina, stay housed.

"Formerly homeless households are very stable in the buildings we manage, so it's very likely they'll be here for many years. This will be their home," said Dunn.

Ashley Austin is moving into a two-bedroom unit at 455 Fell St., with her four and one-year-old sons.

"I love it!" said Austin through an explosive laugh. "I can't wait to see their faces when we finally move-in."

Austin grew up in San Francisco and was living with her Grandmother, who she was also taking care of. But when her grandmother passed away last year, she and her sons were kicked out of the apartment because they weren't on the lease.

"It was frustrating because my Grandma was living here for 40 years."

But after all that Austin has learned this year, she has a message for other families who are struggling.

"Don't give up and if you can put all your selfishness as an individual aside, and see what's more important to you, which is your kids, and maintaining a permanent roof for your kids, don't give up."

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"It is a celebration moment for all of us," said Star Community Home's program director, Lucia Lopez, about their client's new housing.

Lopez has worked for Catholic Charities in San Francisco for 20 years. She says most of Star's clients have to find housing outside of San Francisco, so it's incredible that 16 of their residents secured units at 455 Fell.

"So not only the fact that this group of families are getting housing in one complex, it's actually San Francisco. It's not only a wow for the families, it's for staff. We can't believe it because many members of the staff can't afford to live in San Francisco."

Austin, Guillen and all of 455 Fell's formerly homeless residents will pay rent in the amount of 30-percent of their income.

The Star Community Home families move into the new complex at the end of August.

Take a look at ABC7's latest stories and videos about efforts to Build a Better Bay Area.

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